3 Things Not To Say to Someone with an Addiction

Posted by Matt Johnston, Pastoral Care Pastor, on Oct 22, 2021

3 Things Not To Say to Someone with an Addiction

Words matter, especially to someone facing a complex and often-misunderstood condition like addiction. What can we say to communicate our support and encouragement to someone dealing with addiction? And what kinds of things should we NOT say?

Listening well, without judgment, is our most important first step. It’s a powerful way to fight the shame and stigma that often accompany addiction.

But when an opportunity comes up to speak, here are three kinds of statements to avoid:

1. “This is a spiritual issue. You just need to get right with God.”

Being quick to over-spiritualize the situation is a sure way to alienate your friend and position them as distant from God. It’s all too easy to “weaponize” someone’s spiritual health to guilt them into changing their behavior. While those who recover from addiction often point to spiritual growth as a critical part of the recovery process, it’s not fair (and likely inaccurate) to say that addiction is only a spiritual disease.

Try this instead: “You may feel powerless to stop on your own, but God is strong enough to help us conquer this together.”

This is a great way to remind a friend that—although the power to overcome addiction is God’s alone—they have your support on their journey. Look for other ways to remind them that God is strong enough to handle whatever they are facing, and that you’ll also be there for them along the way.

2. “I don't know anyone else going through this.”

While it may be true, this statement only serves to isolate and marginalize the person hearing it. We may not know if someone else is struggling with addiction; just because we aren’t aware of a personal struggle doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Instead, say this: “You’re not alone.”

This short statement doesn’t just mean, “I’m here.” It’s another way of stating a truth found in the Bible:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

In other words, while this struggle may be extreme, it’s not uncommon. Others have battled with this same type of addiction, and there are valuable lessons and proven ways to find victory in the struggle.

3. “If you really wanted to, you could just stop.”

Stopping unwanted behavior as a result of sheer will is much easier said than done. Numerous factors can contribute to a person’s addiction, and none of them are easily managed by flipping an internal switch from “yes” to “no.” Past traumas, chemical imbalances, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and more can all contribute to addiction.

Instead, try asking, “Is there anything I or the church can do to help?”

We can find strength in numbers, and the pooled resources of the church are far deeper and richer than any one person. This kind of statement also helps to check any temptation we might have to assume we know what should be done. We need to let the other person have the initial say in what kind of outside help they want.

Bottom line: 

If you’re in a position for someone to share with you their struggle with addiction, it is not your job to fix them, shame them, judge them, or even inspire them. Simply listen to what they have to say, empathize with their experience the best you can, and work to keep them tied to your community or groupWhile you may not be a trained addiction specialist, you can offer the incredible gift of your presence and encouragement while they overcome addiction.

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